Archives for December 2013

A Bizarre Pardon

I have no idea what possessed Putin.

Did he think that it would spare him Western criticism in the run-up to Sochi? Of course not. Khodorkovsky was on the back-burner. LGBT rights are West’s stick du jour to beat up on Russia.

Did he think it would improve the legal and investment climate? I sure hope not, because it would mean he is an idiot who laps up the propaganda of those who loathe him.

Did he think it would reflect well on him? Journalists are rushing in to confirm that Putin’s pardon is just as arbitrary as the original indictment. (They have a point – about the former). Even pundits who once excoriated Khodorkovsky as the criminal he was, such as Mark Adomanis, now talk of the “trumped-up charges of fraud and tax-evasion” that put him in prison.

Did he think Khodorkovsky would shut up in gratitude? There was no admission of guilt involve, and the Menatep bandit has begun agitating from his 5-star Berlin hotel already.

Russia desperately needs more Westernization. In any truly civilized country, YUKOS’ campaign of tax evasion and contract killings would have ensured Khodorkovsky would have been locked up and the keys thrown away forever.

Instead, he will busy himself with plotting intrigues, as oligarchs are wont to do in banana republics. The only difference is that Russia doesn’t have bananas.

12/22/2013 EDIT: Alexander Mercouris has penned what I consider to be the defining article on this: Khodorkovsky – The End of the Affair? Go, read.

The End of the Russia Debate. (For Real, This Time)

I should have never allowed myself to be talked out of it in the first place.

The primary reasons are the same as before: Low activity rates, to the extent that genuine discussions are once again being overtaken by spam in terms of volume. This is in spite of substantially increased security measures since then.

But there are also some wider reasons, such my online presence being spread too thin by projects such as the forum. You have to prune these things from time to time. Inspired by the recent events at RIA, I feel it is time for a rationalization and consolidation of my own projects.

The forum will go offline as of the New Year.

THAT SAID, should another forumer or group of forumers wish to continue the forum, I will be happy to turn over the passwords and the forum software license for the common good. The only condition is that I will no longer be liable for the site’s active administration and paying hosting fees. If you are interested, please contact me and we will discuss this further.

From RIA to Russia Today* (not RT)

RIA Novosti, Russia’s main state-run news agency, is going to be dissolved. So is Voice of Russia, a publication that I’ve written for, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta and its Russia Beyond the Headlines project*. They are to be merged into a new organization confusingly called Rossiya Segodnya (“Russia Today”), which is NOT the same as the (in)famous TV station. The Russia Today that we know and love (or hate) has long formally rebranded itself as RT, though it continues to be colloquially referred to as “Russia Today” by friends and foes alike.

This is an important point to make, as some Western media outlets – most notably, the Guardian – have claimed otherwise. Amusingly enough, a few of their commentators now say they are boycotting RT (the TV station) because the new director of Russia Today (aka Rossiya Segodnya), Dmitry Kiselyov, is apparently somewhat of a homophobe. At least, that is the only information about him (other than being pro-Putin) that the Guardian deemed worthy to include.

Why is RIA being folded up? I think there are two main reasons. Reading their article on their own demise will give you a clue as to the first:

The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.

In a separate decree published Monday, the Kremlin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent Russian television presenter and media manager recently embroiled in a scandal over anti-gay remarks, to head Rossiya Segodnya.

This is representative of RIA’s typical editorial slant, which is usually critical of the government position. (So much so that The Independent’s Shaun Walker described it as “surprisingly decent”).

This is okay and indeed appropriate if RIA was primarily a Russian language service catering to a Russian audience. But its not. Its primary audience are Westerners, who don’t exactly suffer from a lack of access to negative Russia coverage. To take but the latest example, their coverage of the recent unrest in Ukraine was explicitly pro-Euromaidan. Konstantin Eggert has a column there called “Due West,” which is exactly what it says on the tin: A pulpit from which to incessantly proclaim how Russia sucks, why RT should be defunded and Assange imprisoned, and why the West and Saakashvili are the best things since sliced white bread. Vasily Gatov, one of RIA’s most senior people, claimed that “Grozny” was afraid that the FBI would take the second Boston bomber alive (presumably, because the FSB trained him up, or something). Make no mistake, I do think that freedom of speech is good and it’s great that Eggert enjoys it in Russia – though it’s worth mentioning that the sentiment is not reciprocal – but the notion becomes rather absurd and even distorted when a state news agency consistently attacks and undermines the government in the eyes of foreigners.

This does not happen in the West. Whatever their domestic disagreements, there is an implicit understanding among American politicians that criticism of the US and the US government is off limits so far as foreigners are concerned. The same goes for America’s “soft power” media. You will simply not find much anti-US material on RFERL or Voice of America. The same goes for the BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV, France 24, and Deutche Welle as regards the foreign policies of their respective countries (aka sponsors). Russia making an exception on this issue is maladaptive and not even widely appreciated to boot.

In this respect, RIA has long been somewhat of aberration, and frankly the only thing surprising is that it took the Kremlin this long to comprehend and rationalize the situation. Western journalists complain about clampdowns and neo-Sovietism all they want. The Russian taxpayer owes them nothing. In the meantime:

“Russia has its own independent politics and strongly defends its national interests: it’s difficult to explain this to the world but we can do this, and we must do this,” Ivanov told reporters.

In that respect, RIA didn’t help; it hindered.

[Read more…]

Argument for Libertarianism

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Dear 23andMe Customers,

I’m writing to update you on our conversation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and how it impacts you.

If you are a customer whose kit was purchased before November 22, 2013, your 23andMe experience will not change. You will be able to access both ancestry and health-related information as you always have.

23andMe has complied with the FDA’s directive and stopped offering new consumers access to health-related genetic results while the company moves forward with the agency’s regulatory review processes. Be sure to refer to our 23andMe blog for updates.

Revealed Preference

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Revealed preferences: The language settings on Vkontakte social network throughout Ukraine.

Translation: Nemtsov for Europe!

Opposotionist Boris Nemtsov arrested in Moscow for showing his support for Kiev mob actions, as reported by Moskovsky Komsomolets’ Natalia Rozhkova, December 2, 2013.

Nemtsov shamefacedly arrested in Moscow city centre at a demonstration in support of the Ukraine

Activists from the Republican Party of Russia “Parnas” taken to local police station for showing their support for European integration

On Monday evening co-chairmain of the RPR “Parnas”, Boris Nemtsov, was arrested close to the Ukrainian Embassy in central Moscow during an unsanctioned rally in support of the European integration of our East European neighbour. MK was told this by Nemtsov himself, who telephoned the newspaper from the “Presnensky” precinct police station, where he had been taken after his arrest. Nemtsov hopes that after the charges have been made he will have time to get the evening train to Yaroslavl, in order to attend the regional parliament, where, as a deputy there, he is going to be to discussing budgetary matters …

“There were 11 people there. We went peacefully, without weapons; quietly and in full compliance with Article 31 of the Constitution”, the politician said. “Holding a banner reading: ‘Ukraine- we are with you!’, we stood for 10 minutes, after which all of us were apprehended”.

[Read more…]

I Appear On RT To Discuss Euromaidan

Here it is:

From RT:

‘No going back for Yanukovich now’

If the Ukrainian president goes back on the deal with the EU, he’ll disappoint his supporters and he’s obviously not going to regain the support of those who are protesting, author and blogger Anatoly Karlin told RT.

RT:President Yanukovich is being accused of betraying national interests by turning down the EU deal, but he says it’s bad for the economy. Do you agree with Yanukovich and what are his options at this point?

Anatoly Karlin: We have to look at this objectively. What the EU was offering was $600 million for many years and perhaps some help with negotiating an IMF loan. The IMF loan was much bigger, $16 billion , but it came with some conditions such as  salary freeze, spending cuts, 40 percent rise in gas prices.

With the elections coming up in March 2015, Yanukovich simply cannot afford to accede to those demands, especially since the EU is demanding a lot, but isn’t giving a lot. For instance, there is no visa-free travel; free trade between Europe and Ukraine will destroy a lot of heavy industry, especially in the eastern part of the country, where Yanukovich and the Party of Regions have a lot of their electorate.

On the other hand, young people who are more disposed against Yanukovich are not to going to get the labor movement, they are going to be able to emigrate to Athens and Dublin, they are going to vote against them instead. So it’s not surprising that Yanukovich rejected the EU deal simply because Russia is offering better conditions in terms of money, about $10 billion, when the EU says $600 million.

RT: What can Yanukovich do at this point? He has perhaps these reasoned arguments for not wanting a deal with the EU, but here are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, he has to deal with them somehow. What do you think is the best move?

AK: I think he’s got to seek [a diplomatic way] out, there is no going back now. If he does go back, then he is also going to disappoint his system’s supporters, who support his current course and he is obviously not going to get back the support of those who are protesting. Another thing we have to bear in mind is that even the Orange Revolution in 2004 was not made by the street, it was made by a court judgment which ruled that the elections were illegitimate and called for new elections.

RT:The EU agreement could still be revisited later. Why did the opposition choose violent protests instead of having more dialogue about the pros and cons of integration with the EU?

AK: I think because, first of all, slogans work better than decent arguments about the economics, which frankly don’t interest too many people. Secondly, it appears to be basically that Eastern Ukrainians support the Party of Regions – they are more politically apathetic in general, whereas Central Ukrainians and Western Ukrainians are willing to go out, protest and make their voices heard. The opposition really has the sense to go out and galvanize people.

RT:Who do you think stands to benefit from this unrest? Is there more to these protests than just a trade deal?

AK: I don’t think anybody stands to benefit. First of all, although these protests went off peacefully, today [Sunday] they went into the other direction, we had those hilarious scenes of the bulldozer trying to plow into the police forces guarding government buildings in Kiev and Molotov cocktails being thrown at police, and although this makes good TV footage, there is also going to be a lot of people who are staying at their homes, who are witnessing this, who will be turned off by this violence.

I don’t think this will benefit the opposition in the long term, once tempers cool down. Another winter is coming, it’s getting colder, people aren’t willing to stand out in the cold to protest during January. It’s obviously not doing any good for Ukrainian economy either because it’s in a poorly enough state as it is, there’s debt repayments coming up and it would really be in its favor of Ukraine to focus more on technocratic economic side as opposed to these political games.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Premonitions

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

The reason the police were “barely in control” is that Yanukovych demoralized them by criticizing them for breaking up yesterday’s Maidan, in a bid to appease protesters who will not be appeased.

Apparently, the ProFFesor believes balancing between two stools is a good strategy for Ukrainian domestic politics too. What other explanation can there be?

Though in theory his position should be secure, his perennial incompetence means that actual revolution before March 2015 is a distinct, if still unlikely, possibility.